The first season of USA Network’s anthology series began with a murder. Somehow triggered, Jessica Biel’s character, Cora Tannetti, took a knife and murdered an unknown beachgoer. That happened within the first twenty minutes of the premiere, and Sinner spent the rest of the season trying to understand the “why” through the police investigation of Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman). Emmy nominated Jessica Biel played a sympathetic character whose past ultimately informed the decision she made in the present to take the life of a man she did not seem to know.
The second season works for a similar premise, only here instead of a sympathetic wife and mother, it’s a quiet 13-year-old kid, Julian Walker (Elisha Henig), who decides to lethally poison a couple we believe to be his parents. The question is never, “Did he murder them,” but why? Again, it’s Detective Harry Ambrose who takes us through the investigation, aided by a local police officer, Heather Novack (The Deuce’s Natalie Paul), who apparently has a connection to whoever or whatever motivated Julian to murder. Two episodes in, and like the first season, Sinner has been able to successfully keep viewers glued to the mystery by slowly peeling back the layers to reveal not answers, but more questions.
Lord Castleton likes to talk about shows that work only by keeping viewers interested by “hiding the ball,” a particularly egregious offense where it concerns Damon Lindelof (at least according to Castleton). But a great series, I think, manages to invest the viewer into the characters while simultaneously keeping us guessing as to the whereabouts of that ball (see, e.g., Damon Lindelof’s The Leftovers). Through the first season and the first two episodes of the second, it’s exactly what Sinner has managed to accomplish: The hidden ball piques our curiosity, but it’s the character work that keeps us coming back.
In that regard, the second season could not have asked for better than Carrie Coon, who toplines this season as Vera. I’ll keep the details of her character under wraps, except to say that she runs a Utopian community (otherwise known as a cult) and she may or may not be the villain of this story, which makes her all the more compelling. If there’s interest, I may return to talk about developments as they unfold over the course of the series, but for now, I just want to recommend Sinner to anyone who likes well-acted, well-plotted mysteries with a slight undercurrent of horror. The first season fetched good ratings, but for some reason, the show doesn’t get much press, probably because of the network on which it airs. It deserves more coverage. Also, it’s an anthology series, so it is not necessary to watch the first season before wading into the second, but the first season is well worth the investment despite what you might believe about a drama on the USA Network.
Header Image Source: USA Network